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Contrabombarde

Shrewsbury Abbey

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The fine 1911 Hill organ at Shrewsbury Abbey is one hundred years old this year and definitely feeling its age. It just about survived the Christmas services, but the combination of a century of Abbey flooding, heating problems, lack of humidity (when the Abbey isn't flooded!), grime and virtually no maintenance over the past hundred years means that it's come to the end of its working life. And so a major project is planned to restore this wonderful instrument back into full health. In addition, since when it was originally installed a number of stops were "prepared for" but never actually installed, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to complete the instrument to its designer's dream, whilst making subtle improvements to later additions that on balance weren't very successful.

 

Here's the current specification, with suggested amendments in italics:

 

Couplers

Swell to Pedal

Swell to Great

Swell to Choir

Swell octave

Swell suboctave

Choir to Pedal

Great to Pedal

Choir to Great (never part of the original plan but useful especially if a Choir Tuba is to be added)

 

Pedal

Open Wood 32 (new, prepared for)

Open Diapason 16 (A)

Violone 16 (from Great)

Bourdon 16 (B )

Octave 8 (A)

Bass Flute 8 (B )

Principal 8 (new, not prepared for but suggested for brightening the tone)

Superoctave 4 (new, from Principal)

Trombone 16 (new, prepared-for)

Trumpet 8 (new, from Trombone)

 

Great

Double Open Diapason 16

Open Diapason I 8 (added in 1939, possibly from the famous HNB at Glybourne; intended to be OD2 but it turned out to be an oversized OD1- revoice to blend better with chorus or replace)

Open Diapason II 8

Hohl Flute 8

Principal 4

Harmonic Flute 4

Twelfth 2 2/3

Fifteenth 2

Mixture III 17.19.22

Posaune 8 (Added later and needs revoicing up as a Choir Tuba or down as a chorus reed, since at the moment it's neither one thing or t'other)

Clarion 4 (either independent or taken from the revoiced Posaune if that doesn't end up becoming the Choir Tuba)

 

Swell

Bourdon 16 (prepared for)

Open Diapason 8

Stopped Diapason 8

Salcional 8 (sic)

Voix Celestes 8 TC

Principal 4

Fifteenth 2

Mixture II 19.22 (add a third rank for extra brightness)

Contra Oboe 16 (originally Oboe 8 but unsuccessfully transposed in 1945 - either retain at 16 foot or transpose back to 8 foot pitch and add a new 16 reed)

Oboe 8 (prepared for, or use the existing 16 contra-oboe pipes as above)

Horn 8 (added 1945, second-hand using rather battered pipes, slightly vulgar)

Clarion 4 (prepared for)

Tremulant

 

Choir

Lieblich Gedeckt 8

Dulciana 8

Viol di Gamba 8

Suabe Flute 4

Nazard 2 2/3 (HNB pipes added in 1958 - not very useful so may consider replacing by a Gemshorn 4)

Piccolo 2 (HNB pipes added in 1958)

Clarinet 8

Orchestral Oboe 8

Tuba (new or revoiced Great Posaune, also to be playable from Great)

Tremulant

 

A few stops were added in the 1940s and 1960s but these have not been particularly successful and did not complete the original vision. Surprisingly for a moderately large romantic instrument, the organ never had any tremulants, something that would need to be addressed. The above specification essentially completes the original scheme, with the addition of a Choir Tuba plus 8 and 4 foot Pedal diapasons, 8 foot Pedal reed and 4 foot Great reed. Originally the Pedal was scheduled to have a Cello 8 which would probably have been extended from the Great Double Open Diapason 16 (actually the Pedal Violone) but the additional borrowing probably will not enhance the Pedal's current weediness so much as adding a 4 foot and a couple of reeds. In fact even though the organ is open to three sides of the Abbey, it does sound rather muffled and does not project well either into the nave or the choir, and the Choir box, buried under the Swell is almost inaudible. So it is a good opportunity to revisit the internal ordering of the instrument, and hopefully by rearranging its structure it will project far more confidently, just as Malvern Abbey and Armley have hugely benefited from internal reordering.

 

The current charge pneumatic action is sluggish and inaccessible, so on grounds of cost, ease of access, and not least to ensure that the innards are less susceptible to flooding, the most logical thing seems to be to convert the instrument to electropneumatic or direct electric action. That would also enable the "full complement of playing aids" including playback to be fitted - the vision is for to develop the Abbey as a centre of musical excellence, and it would be useful both for teaching and to allow playback of the organ whilst the many tourists who visit the Abbey are looking round. Hopefully once this scheme is realised the Abbey will once again be the proud custodians of a magnificent organ capable of leading the next few generations of musicians and worshippers in this glorious 900 year old building.

 

Contrabombarde

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The fine 1911 Hill organ at Shrewsbury Abbey is one hundred years old this year and definitely feeling its age. It just about survived the Christmas services, but the combination of a century of Abbey flooding, heating problems, lack of humidity (when the Abbey isn't flooded!), grime and virtually no maintenance over the past hundred years means that it's come to the end of its working life. And so a major project is planned to restore this wonderful instrument back into full health. In addition, since when it was originally installed a number of stops were "prepared for" but never actually installed, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to complete the instrument to its designer's dream, whilst making subtle improvements to later additions that on balance weren't very successful.

 

Sounds wonderful! It is a fine beast, but definitely showing its age.

 

The vision is for to develop the Abbey as a centre of musical excellence, and it would be useful both for teaching and to allow playback of the organ whilst the many tourists who visit the Abbey are looking round. Hopefully once this scheme is realised the Abbey will once again be the proud custodians of a magnificent organ capable of leading the next few generations of musicians and worshippers in this glorious 900 year old building.

 

I know the former Director of Music at the Abbey, who felt that the choir and organ were not given the respect they deserved. Have things suddenly changed?

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"to convert the instrument to electropneumatic or direct electric action. "

(Quote)

 

Please !!!!!

Either wait 10 years more, so that the ideas might evolve somewhat,

either forget that idea at once.

This would equal to kill that organ, as we now know it nowadays.

 

Pierre

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If you're going to re-order the layout, then installing new electric action must be the obvious course. If you were leaving it as it is, or restoring it to something like its original condition, there would be an argument in favour of retaining the old action. That happened at St. Thomas, Belfast, when our hosts restored a Hill organ slightly larger than Shrewsbury Abbey's, but otherwise much the same. I never found the Belfast job very inspiring, but I was told that the upperwork had been toned down in the thirties and the Heritage people wouldn't let it be opened out again. Shrewsbury sounded much more lively - at least at the console.

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It is good to see the exciting prospects of restoring this instrument.

 

IMHO, you should seek to restore the organ, as far as possible to a researched contemporary state. Regularly playing such an instrument myself, I feel that the charge-pneumatic action is an integral part of the instrument's character and musically, I would put this above the prospect of pistons and additions every time.

 

As far as completing prepared-for stops and additions go, I would complete the scheme and nothing further in order to maintain its integral character. If it is really felt necessary to add to the Sw Mixture, it should have a 17th. I'd restore the Oboe to its rightful place (an integral part of the Eng Romantic swell) and, if desired, install a Contra Fagotto to match the other chorus reeds (assuming there is space at the correct pressure (presumably 6"). My instrument has both solo Tuba and Great Tromba. They are not dissimilar with the Tromba having a bit more "clang". Great Open Diapason I is enormous (and wonderful) on 6" by the Tromba.

 

M

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Times indeed change, in the past few months there has been a new vicar and a new director of music and a vision to see the Abbey become better known for its music and its worship. The choir is non-professional but sings for the weekly Choral Evensong in addition to the regular Sunday morning and weekday festival occasions.

 

The arguments in favour of retaining the pneumatic action essentially come down to historicity. I have played a number of instruments with recently restored pneumatic actions that were historical restorations to an original state and fine they are too. However, the organ in the Abbey isn't entirely original (probably nothing was revoiced subsequently, but extra conveyancing and mechanisms have been created at various points for the new stops, which would be lost if the Hill action was restored to its original state and the original tonal scheme would then not be possible to complete either); the action is hardly untouched Hill. Plus an entirely new soundboard will need to be made, under higher pressure, for the Swell reeds; at the moment there is just a big space in the box where the high pressure soundboard was intended to go but was never actually made, and three blank stops at the console.

 

Given the need to create space under the organ in case of flooding, the need to be able to access the action mechanisms that are currently failing and totally inaccessible, the desire to reposition the soundboards so the organ can be heard more clearly, and the need for a brand new high pressure Swell reed soundboard, it seems difficult (though not impossible) to justify retaining a pneumatic action. The advice of various organ advisers has been generally, but not unanimously, that conversion to electric or EP would be the most sensible option. It does raise an interesting question about when a restoration to a known historical state actually diminishes the instrument - whilst the 1930s and 1950s additions are hardly improvements and could be reversed, a faithful return to the incomplete instrument Hill first installed would seem a missed opportunity, when we know what he wanted the Abbey to have. (Indeed, a prerequisite would be if possible to find Hill or similar pipework of the same vintage as the organ if possible to complete the scheme.) If converted to electropneumatic action, the original pneumatics would be retained; if there was a good case for direct electric, only then would the Hill pneumatic motors no longer be required either.

 

Incidentally it is on quite a low pressure - around 3 inches to Great and Pedals, I think possibly even less to Swell and Choir.

 

Another potentially thorny issue is temperament - it's a bit flat (c=517). Annoying enough for choir practice, but impossible for an orchestra to play with it. I wonder how much the Hill tone would change if raised the quarter semitone or however much is it flat by?

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The fine 1911 Hill organ at Shrewsbury Abbey is one hundred years old this year and definitely feeling its age.
Here's the current specification, with suggested amendments in italics:

Couplers
Swell to Pedal
Swell to Great
Swell to Choir
Swell octave
Swell suboctave
Choir to Pedal
Great to Pedal
Choir to Great (never part of the original plan but useful especially if a Choir Tuba is to be added)

Pedal
Open Wood 32 (new, prepared for)
Open Diapason 16 (A)
Violone 16 (from Great)
Bourdon 16 (B )
Octave 8 (A)
Bass Flute 8 (B )
Principal 8 (new, not prepared for but suggested for brightening the tone)
Superoctave 4 (new, from Principal)
Trombone 16 (new, prepared-for)
Trumpet 8 (new, from Trombone)

Great
Double Open Diapason 16
Open Diapason I 8 (added in 1939, possibly from the famous HNB at Glybourne; intended to be OD2 but it turned out to be an oversized OD1- revoice to blend better with chorus or replace)
Open Diapason II 8
Hohl Flute 8
Principal 4
Harmonic Flute 4
Twelfth 2 2/3
Fifteenth 2
Mixture III 17.19.22
Posaune 8 (Added later and needs revoicing up as a Choir Tuba or down as a chorus reed, since at the moment it's neither one thing or t'other)
Clarion 4 (either independent or taken from the revoiced Posaune if that doesn't end up becoming the Choir Tuba)

Swell
Bourdon 16 (prepared for)
Open Diapason 8
Stopped Diapason 8
Salcional 8 (sic)
Voix Celestes 8 TC
Principal 4
Fifteenth 2
Mixture II 19.22 (add a third rank for extra brightness)
Contra Oboe 16 (originally Oboe 8 but unsuccessfully transposed in 1945 - either retain at 16 foot or transpose back to 8 foot pitch and add a new 16 reed)
Oboe 8 (prepared for, or use the existing 16 contra-oboe pipes as above)
Horn 8 (added 1945, second-hand using rather battered pipes, slightly vulgar)
Clarion 4 (prepared for)
Tremulant

Choir
Lieblich Gedeckt 8
Dulciana 8
Viol di Gamba 8
Suabe Flute 4
Nazard 2 2/3 (HNB pipes added in 1958 - not very useful so may consider replacing by a Gemshorn 4)
Piccolo 2 (HNB pipes added in 1958)
Clarinet 8
Orchestral Oboe 8
Tuba (new or revoiced Great Posaune, also to be playable from Great)
Tremulant

A few stops were added in the 1940s and 1960s but these have not been particularly successful and did not complete the original vision. Surprisingly for a moderately large romantic instrument, the organ never had any tremulants, something that would need to be addressed. The above specification essentially completes the original scheme, with the addition of a Choir Tuba plus 8 and 4 foot Pedal diapasons, 8 foot Pedal reed and 4 foot Great reed. Originally the Pedal was scheduled to have a Cello 8 which would probably have been extended from the Great Double Open Diapason 16 (actually the Pedal Violone) but the additional borrowing probably will not enhance the Pedal's current weediness so much as adding a 4 foot and a couple of reeds. In fact even though the organ is open to three sides of the Abbey, it does sound rather muffled and does not project well either into the nave or the choir, and the Choir box, buried under the Swell is almost inaudible. So it is a good opportunity to revisit the internal ordering of the instrument, and hopefully by rearranging its structure it will project far more confidently, just as Malvern Abbey and Armley have hugely benefited from internal reordering.


Contrabombarde


I was interested to read this. I also spent a short time as Organist and Choirmaster here several years ago. It is indeed a good instrument. I actually like the G.O. Posaune. I think that if you were to have it softened, it would have a further adverse effect on the aural projection down the Nave.

I was also of the opinion that the present form of action should be restored. However, since the well-publicised problems at Bristol Cathedral, I think that this course would be an expensive one - and not necessarily the best option. (It appears that Bristol requires quite regular maintenance, otherwise the action quickly becomes sluggish and unresponsive.)

Good luck with raising any money at all for this worthy project. I hope that it is different now - my predecessor had failed to arouse any interest in purchasing a good second-hand 32ft. wood rank for the Pedal Organ, which was for sale at a very reasonable price. I was unable even to get them to pay for regular maintenance. (I tuned it myself whilst in-post, and repaired a couple of wind leaks.)

Tonally, I think that it is excellent. I would also replace the Nazard on the Choir - a Gemshorn seems a sensible option. When considering the idea of restoring it to any 'original' state, it should be borne in mind that a number of alterations over many years have taken place (as you state), and that a purely 'historical' restoration could well leave the church with an even smaller instrument - which is therefore even less able to cope with musical demands made upon it.

Incidentally, if you do get enough money to complete the Swell reed chorus (together with the new soundboard), the Oboe should really be returned to 8ft, pitch and a Double Trumpet installed. A building of this size needs a decent-scale double reed on the Swell. The Contra Oboe (only to C13 at present) is comaratively gentle - I never felt that it worked as a double.

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Guest Cynic
I was interested to read this. I also spent a short time as Organist and Choirmaster here several years ago. It is indeed a good instrument. I actually like thet G.O. Posaune. I think that if you were to have it softened, it would have a further adverse effect on the aural projection down the Nave.

 

I was also of the opinion that the present form of action should be restored. However, since the well-publicised problems at Bristol Cathedral, I think that this course would be an expensive one - and not necessarily the best option. (It appears that Bristol requires quite regular maintenance, otherwise the action quickly becomes sluggish and unresponsive.)

 

Good luck with raising any money at all for this worthy project. I hope that it is different now - my predecessor had failed to arouse any interest in purchasing a good second-hand 32ft. wood rank for the Pedal Organ, which was for sale at a very reasonable price. I was unable even to get them to pay for regular maintenance. (I tuned it myself whilst in-post, and repaired a couple of wind leaks.)

 

Tonally, I think that it is excellent. I would also replace the Nazard on the Choir - a Gemshorn seems a sensible option. When considering the idea of restoring it to any 'original' state, it should be borne in mind that a number of alterations over many years have taken place (as you state), and that a purely 'historical' restoration could well leave the church with an even smaller instrument - which is therefore even less able to cope with musical demands made upon it.

 

Incidentally, if you do get enough money to complete the Swell reed chorus (together with the new soundboard), the Oboe should really be returned to 8ft, pitch and a Double Trumpet installed. A building of this size needs a decent-scale double reed on the Swell. The Contra Oboe (only to C13 at present) is comaratively gentle - I never felt that it worked as a double.

 

 

I was also Organist and Choirmaster at Shrewsbury Abbey a while back! Mind you, in the days of the legendary Revd.Ian Ross practically everyone got a go at the job. I believe he got through more than ten organists in fifteen years. I can claim with pride that I and my wife re-founded the choir.. and after my successor, or my successor's successor's successor he closed it down again (of course). The tale of my immediate successor is a wonderful one. pcnd says he served for a short time - he lasted very well compared to the guy who came immediately after me. One choir practice, one Sunday morning, one lunch with the vicar (and his unique wife) and resigned!

 

I completely agree with pcnd virtually throughout his post (quoted above). I am also puzzled at some of the statements made by Contrabombarde about this organ earlier in the topic. Sorry if this is going to sound combative, I have no axe to grind, more the fact that I know quite a bit about this organ. More or less top of my list of puzzles, I am surprised at his assertion that the job is on 3". Hill worked on a standard pressure (higher than this) and this instrument is entirely typical of its period. The proof that the pressure is right is that the instrument does serve this (pretty sizeable) building very adequately even with a slightly incomplete specification. Albeit it is/was in a moderately rough state, I have heard some very good players on this organ over the years, the most memorable being Graham Steed giving us a complete Dupre Passion Symphony on it once - which worked remarkably well, to my surprise.

 

The matter of the completing/rebuilding of Shrewsbury Abbey organ has had the status of 'pious hope' for many, many years. I was confidently told about ten years ago that the then organist already had money lined up for H&H to complete the organ, but I did not necessarily believe said gentleman, having known him for many years. What is the appropriate phrase (?) - he has a rich fantasy life! I have since heard the name of an organ-builder friend of mine attached to a possible rebuilding ..that at least has more credibility. However, Finding The Money...!!! You are talking of not less than half a million. The more you change what is already there the less that the grant-giving bodies will rally round and 'do their bit'.

 

I agree it would be more practical (and cheaper) to electrify the current action rather than preserve it in aspic, but once again, I am confused as to what modifications Contrabombarde has been told have been made to it. The choir specification was modified (in 1945?) but this was only a matter of gaining a couple of tiny ranks. I'm sure the even the Choir chest was not replaced in toto then, and there would have been no advantage to anyone to modify anything else, action wise. It is also not in his interests to suggest that the organ is in any way other than (essentially) original Hill. He might get away with an electrification, and those pedal additions look sensible. Complete the Swell with a HP reed chorus, you might just about get the Great Posaune put on a separate chest so it could play on the choir, but as an alternative, why not use the new reed that's going on the Pedal to play as an 8' solo reed on the Choir?

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I also know the organ at Shrewsbury Abbey - though only very very slightly. I know slightly more of the 'new' set-up - which could be really exciting for all concerned. I knew the place had some 'history' but I do wonder how many ex-Directors of Music there actually are lurking in the wings!!!

 

I'm very happy to admit that, compared to many on this board, I know little about organ restoration and, had I been in a position where I had an instrument like Shrewsbury in my care, I would have sought lots of different opinions and asked for lots of advice.

 

However it seems to me that you can talk as much as you like about restoration, about sympathetic restoration, about returning the Shrewsbury instrument to its original/intended state - but remember this - the instrument has a weekly job of work to do - and any rebuilding/restoration and so on has to enable the instrument to do that job of work. If, at the end of the day, you have an instrument, returned to its original or even its intended state but an instrument that doesn't do the job then, as far as I can see, you've wasted your money!!

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Guest Cynic
I also know the organ at Shrewsbury Abbey - though only very very slightly. I know slightly more of the 'new' set-up - which could be really exciting for all concerned. I knew the place had some 'history' but I do wonder how many ex-Directors of Music there actually are lurking in the wings!!!

 

I'm very happy to admit that, compared to many on this board, I know little about organ restoration and, had I been in a position where I had an instrument like Shrewsbury in my care, I would have sought lots of different opinions and asked for lots of advice.

 

However it seems to me that you can talk as much as you like about restoration, about sympathetic restoration, about returning the Shrewsbury instrument to its original/intended state - but remember this - the instrument has a weekly job of work to do - and any rebuilding/restoration and so on has to enable the instrument to do that job of work. If, at the end of the day, you have an instrument, returned to its original or even its intended state but an instrument that doesn't do the job then, as far as I can see, you've wasted your money!!

 

These are entirely valid comments.

 

Perhaps Contrabombarde could tell us what in addition to supporting/leading a congregation, supporting/leading a choir and the occasional recital is envisaged as a job of work for this organ to do? In all those roles I know this instrument well, and (given its rough mechanical state) it already does them all pretty well. Give it a few additional stops as originally planned, give it a modern piston system..what else can be considered essential? Very little, I'd reckon.

 

I'd instance the recent topic (and situation) at Belmont Abbey where an already efficient and comprehensive organ was somehow deemed to need considerable additions at very considerable expense. I agree that the late Dom Alan Rees needed a memorial, but that scheme only goes to show how when one starts adding things one can get carried away with what is or is not essential in any organ scheme.

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I am surprised at his assertion that the job is on 3". Hill worked on a standard pressure (higher than this) and this instrument is entirely typical of its period. The proof that the pressure is right is that the instrument does serve this (pretty sizeable) building very adequately even with a slightly incomplete specification.

 

The Hill I play (1915) has general pressure at 3 1/4" (as confirmed in Hill's shop book)

 

M

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Guest drd

Very interesting points raised. They have set me wondering how the specification of the instrument in my church might advantageously be altered if one had a clean slate on which to do it.

 

Currently, like many, it does not really support a full congregation (and we have several instances of this during the course of a year) in a large-ish church. Its pedal department is somewhat robbed of wind by the addtion 25 years ago of an additional trumpet, its great and choir speak directly into the chancel which is not very much used these days, and at least one of the great mixtures was beefed up at the same time to within an inch of its life - making it somewhat shrill. Though not placed in a stone 'organ chamber', it is however, in a cramped case at the east end of the north aisle, with large pillars and a screen relatively nearby.

 

The requirements are: to support choir and congregation from minimum to maximum numerical strength, to accompany the choir in a full range of choral music, to be a concert instrument in recitals and in orchestral concerts, likewise to support choral societies small and large, to be an inspiring teaching instrument, and to be a source of pride for the church and the community.

 

I suspect those aims are pretty much identical to what is wanted at Shrewsbury.

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.........

I was also of the opinion that the present form of action should be restored. However, since the well-publicised problems at Bristol Cathedral, I think that this course would be an expensive one - and not necessarily the best option. (It appears that Bristol requires quite regular maintenance, otherwise the action quickly becomes sluggish and unresponsive.).........

 

I am no expert but it is my understanding that Walker pneumatic actions such as Bristol Cath have a lot of adjustment points and are very difficult to get right. It will be interesting to see how our hosts get on at Wimbledon restoring another Walker action. I have not heard of any problems with the Hill pneumatic actions at Eton College Chapel which our hosts also restored. And the original H&H action at Stafford is thought restorable. On the other hand I understand that nobody would restore the Rushworth and Dreaper actions at Malvern for reliability reasons. Every case considered on its merits?

PJW

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Sorry that I join this discussion, lacking any familiarity with that instrument or even with Hill organs or....

I just wanted to say, that there are rare situations coming up, where an original idea could not really be completed in the beginning, and with new means available, the designer's ideas could be fulfilled decades later. This is something which should be considered, but those of you who know Shrewsbury seem not to be sure, if that is necessary.

 

But a more practical thing: If the type of action is somewhat reliable and serviceable - no idea about that, but many on the board are experts - one could have the best of both worlds by restoring and keeping it, but find a certain point in the stop action, where it could be interrupted and interferred by a combination system, working via pneumatic relays, digitally controlled. If the console should remain untouched, the system should be accessed via a separate board on a stand or as a drawer. These "soft additions" are found often in Germany, and to enable a restored pneumatic instrument to store and recall thousands of combinations has been done before, too. The most beautiful and versatile example I know and played is the Marcussen organ of 1914 in the vast St Michaelis church of Hamburg. It has been painstakingly restored and reconstructed to its original state by Philipp Klais, but is fully integrated in the giant three-instrument-array of organs in the church. It is playable tubular-pneumatically from its own console and digitally controlled from the main console. The interior of that organ with its side by side newly-laid tubular pneumatic, discretely supported by electric magnets, is a joy to see.

Read the whole story here http://www.klais.de/m.php?sid=123 and jump to the Marcussen.

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Sorry that I join this discussion, lacking any familiarity with that instrument or even with Hill organs or....
I just wanted to say, that there are rare situations coming up, where an original idea could not really be completed in the beginning, and with new means available, the designer's ideas could be fulfilled decades later. This is something which should be considered, but those of you who know Shrewsbury seem not to be sure, if that is necessary.

But a more practical thing: If the type of action is somewhat reliable and serviceable - no idea about that, but many on the board are experts - one could have the best of both worlds by restoring and keeping it, but find a certain point in the stop action, where it could be interrupted and interferred by a combination system, working via pneumatic relays, digitally controlled. If the console should remain untouched, the system should be accessed via a separate board on a stand or as a drawer. These "soft additions" are found often in Germany, and to enable a restored pneumatic instrument to store and recall thousands of combinations has been done before, too. The most beautiful and versatile example I know and played is the Marcussen organ of 1914 in the vast St Michaelis church of Hamburg. It has been painstakingly restored and reconstructed to its original state by Philipp Klais, but is fully integrated in the giant three-instrument-array of organs in the church. It is playable tubular-pneumatically from its own console and digitally controlled from the main console. The interior of that organ with its side by side newly-laid tubular pneumatic, discretely supported by electric magnets, is a joy to see.
Read the whole story here http://www.klais.de/m.php?sid=123 and jump to the Marcussen.


Except that this is part of the problem, as contrabombarde has stated. The present action is neither reliable nor is it easily serviceable. Added to which, due to the fact that the Abbey has flooded on a number of occasions*, it would be adviseable to try to raise the organ - which could entail re-configuring the action. As it stands, parts of that action are extremely difficult to access for maintenance - believe me, I know.

I agree with cynic - his views on the (partial) completion of the scheme accord very much with my own. I would have misgivings about attempting a perceived 'historical' restoration. The abbey appears not to have been exactly flush with funds for many years and spending a lot of money on something (which another contributor has pointed-out) which may not be able to do the job it is expected to do, is not a good use of resources - not, simply to satisfy a desire to re-create something 'historical', from any particular period - something which, it could be argued, may be viewed as 'false' (in the sense that it is still new material, grafted on, possibly resembling a previous state - or possibly not).



* I am fairly certain that there was a monochrome photograph skulking around in the vestry or somewhere, depicting someone rowing a boat up the centre of the Nave....

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* I am fairly certain that there was a monochrome photograph skulking around in the vestry or somewhere, depicting someone rowing a boat up the centre of the Nave....

 

 

======================

 

 

I remember that photograph, but I can't find it on the net. It was in all the papers at the time. However, the infamous flood of 2000 was captured on camera by many, and this gives some idea of the mayhem it caused:-

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/54028555@N00/4075597390

 

However, I have a personal "Organist's story" to relate, in that I was trundling into Shrewsbury during the night when floods struck in 1997, and I came across a young couple in a drowned-out sports car....hood down, both of them perched on the top of the seat-backs; the young man wearing a white tux and a bow tie, and his girlfriend wearing a black lace dress with a feather hat. :(

 

This was the improbable scenario which confronted me, and I ended up rescuing them and getting them to dry land.

 

The young man's final comment has me giggling whenever I think of it:-

 

"Thank you very much for your help; we could have drowned. I suppose it serves us right, because we were on the way home from a "Titanic" party!" :rolleyes:

 

MM

 

 

PS: Is Wesley's "Wash me throughly" the official abbey church anthem?

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Mind you, MM,

 

Even that one we on the other side of the Chunnel are busy to take over:

 

 

(It was loooooong due !)

 

Pierre

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Some very interesting and pertinent comments being raised here as ever, and characteristic of this wonderful forum that so many organists have had personal experience of the organ.

 

I can't be absolutely sure of the wind pressure but do recall something in the region of 3 or 3 1/2 inches, and a little lower for Choir and Swell being written down somewhere within the case.

 

The aim of restoring an instrument of this pedigree should be with the original builder's vision in mind; that it was never completed but the prepared for specification is known makes it relatively easy to complete, though equally knowing its present limitations (beyond its perilous condition) that could not have been known at the drawing board (a weak pedal for instance and almost inaudible choir) mean that were Arthur Hill to revisit the Abbey today to give an opinion he would probably agree that simply recreating the proposed scheme would not quite be sufficient. Any deviations from the original scheme are entirely conjectural at this stage; comparing the Abbey's specification with other Hills of similar vintage suggests that a second and "hornier" 4 foot such as a gemshorn would be better than the out-of-place 2 2/3 that is clamped to the choir soundboard for instance. I think on balance it would be hard not to justify adding a tremulant to Swell and Choir. The 16 Swell Oboe really needs to come back to 8 foot pitch. Most of the minor modifications over the years have neither enhanced the instrument nor taken it in the direction of the original builders. Certainly there is neither the finance nor the will to enlarge it beyond the original scheme (except perhaps for an 8 foot pedal reed and 4 foot Great reed for extra definition, and a tuba for the all-important civic services in which the Abbey is packed).

 

From the comments above the most contentious matter would seem to be whether to retain the pneumatic action or electrocute the instrument. This photo illustrates what happened as recently as 2000:

 

http://s0.geograph.org.uk/photos/05/61/056158_b6bc8f1a.jpg

 

The organ is at the East end, and the abbey floor slopes slightly up from west to east. In addition the organ was raised many years ago about four feet off the ground. Nevertheless, the presence of vast amounts of intricate console pneumatics not all that far off the floor is a worry, and takes up valuable space. The pneumatic motors under the soundboards are virtually inaccessible. Given that difficulty, plus the need to make a new soundboard for the proposed Swell "high pressure" reeds and the wider question of whether the organ could be reordered internally to speak better means that far from retaining pneumatic action it would be more like building a completely new pneumatic action. I touched on the internal ordering earlier; the Choir does not project well at all (not helped by the ineffective box, originally only the two Choir reeds were enclosed). Malvern Priory was transformed through cunning internal layout changes, and it is quite possible the same could be done at the Abbey. There is after all a very considerable amount of space in the organ chamber, even accounting for the space required by an octave of 32 foot pipes, and the chamber is open to chancel and nave.

 

The Abbey congregation, choir and clergy are all very proud of the organ, desire it to be restored to full health and consider it a vital part of the ministry and worship of the church. DRD and SL have expressed its core functions very well. Given its slightly flat pitch, supporting orchestras would be difficult unless it was raised, but this unlikely proposition introduces the possibility of further tonal changes and I am reminded of the tension at Reading Town Hall that resulted in a faithful historical restoration but an instrument that cannot be used with an orchestra any more.

 

Finally, I'm not sure why MusingMuso wonders if Wesley's "Wash me throughly" is the official church anthem, but he will be delighted to know that we sang it earlier tonight for the Ash Wednesday choral Eucharist (along with the Byrd four part mass). Except we didn't sing it, we sang "Wash me thoroughly", as the church secretary thought it was a typo and "corrected" it. It was changed back again....and then subsequently "corrected" again. Sadly my own proofreading of the service sheet was insufficiently thorough and I thus entirely missed the change back again!

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As Mr Kropf demonstrated it, to build new pneumatic actions is no more

something extraordinary today; besides this, in a place subjected to floodings,

it is not sure an electric action were a good idea....

 

Pierre

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I raised my voice within this topic because the basic question is touching my everyday-life, at least regarding my organ, which is insufficient in its present state, and it is still to be found out, if it was really better anytime in the past and in one of his previous appearances, or if a completely new instrument should be considered, or - and that's the point linking back to the Shrewsbury organ - not everything should be retained, but existing material put into new technical surroundings.

 

How to find out if the original builder today would agree to modifications or different techniques? How much would have such an expression - if he could use a "time machine" and make any - to be regarded in relation to heritage conservation rules?

Many composers, when seeing their work analized by musicologists during their life time, they said: Oh, interesting what you've found out - I never thought about this! (Well, the opposite may have happened even more often...).

 

Would Mr Hill, revisiting Shrewsbury, say and agree, that the interior layout is an issue and a reorganisation could be considered? And that is what he even could have done in his time. But the implementation of an action system unavailable at that time is more difficult to judge. His answer to a proposed state-of-OUR-art electric action can just be fantasized on.

 

What is more important - the original vision or the object/realization?

 

Should one make this organ sound like Hill imagined it during the design stage, or should one restore it to the state of service entry with, obviously, some problems included?

 

If one prefers the (tonal) vision (and is sure what Hill imagined - oh dear...), one should be quite free to modify the instrument in the described manner. (Well, the person should be on same level of skill with Hill...) Serviceability would be supported by Mr Hill's spirit, too, I think.

But if the idea of Hill's tonal imagination for this location is unclear to us today, or if a "document preservation" attitude is preferred, a careful restoration should be done.

 

But as reality demonstrates, numberless compromises have been made between these two polarities at many places with a similar question.

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Following up:

 

Shrewsbury Abbey are lucky to have (still playable) a largely untouched organ from 1911. It has a mostly complete tonal scheme which is effective in the building, though I accept that some of the most impressive stops were left prepared-for because of cost. At one time it was thought that Shrewsbury Abbey would become the mother church of a new diocese, when this failed to happen the source of money for the organ dried up.

....

Good luck to you anyway..I am much heartened that the church is getting proper support and help these days.

 

Fear not, even if the money was available, there is neither musical nor liturgical reason to undertake an enlargement on anything like the scale of what happened recently at Cirencester, magnificent though that instrument surely now is. The Abbey thankfully recognises the historical significance of its organ, and the importance of getting it to full working order once more. A restoration will allow the original scheme to be completed whilst providing the opportunity to make subtle adjustments that limited earlier changes failed to address; allowing the pipes to speak more clearly perhaps through making better use of the internal space, adding tremulants that inexplicably were not originally a part of the scheme and perhaps adding a little more definition through a tuba or an extra Mixture rank. The only reason for throwing out the existing soundboards would be if they proved to be beyond economic repair, which seems rather unlikely.

 

The comments around electric action are very interesting; perhaps twenty years ago noone would have hesitated to replace an ageing pneumatic action with an EP or direct electric but how the tables have turned. It would be interesting to speculate, had the organ been built another ten or twenty years later, if it would still have been built with pneumatic action. Evidently Hill (and later HNB) carried on with pneumatics into the 1930s as Rushworth and Dreaper, Harrisons, Willis and others were getting the hang of electropneumatic actions in even their smaller instruments. There are certainly pragmatic reasons for electrification: creation of much-needed space at ground level, avoidance of delicate organ mechanisms close to where floodwater can reach, accessibility of underchest actions, the opportunity for a more versatile combination system (there are something like six organists currently playing at the Abbey on a regular basis who share a grand total of eight unadjustable pistons), and last but no means least, probably cost. Obviously the final decision would not be made without a careful examination of the present action and a consideration regarding the merits of retaining this versus electrifying. In any case, so long as the existing soundboards are retained it will be difficult to enlarge the organ beyond what was prepared for in its original scheme!

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Following up:

 

So.. the wind pressure might be 3.5".. this sounds much more likely!

 

Shrewsbury Abbey are lucky to have (still playable) a largely untouched organ from 1911. It has a mostly complete tonal scheme which is effective in the building, though I accept that some of the most impressive stops were left prepared-for because of cost. At one time it was thought that Shrewsbury Abbey would become the mother church of a new diocese, when this failed to happen the source of money for the organ dried up.

 

Nobody can question that this is the right time to reconstruct the organ, but I would urge those responsible to keep most of it rather than go down what might be termed 'the Malvern Priory route' where every single chest was discarded along with all the wind system. The bulk of the huge cost went on new chests and action.. here there is nothing inherently wrong with the existing soundboards that have worked so well for so long! Largely responsible for their success is the fact that the Abbey has never reached 'warm' yet! They are also of very good design, this cannot be said of all new soundboards! A modern electric primary action, modern stop control etc. will make the best of what is already there. Simply cleaning those clogged-up pipes will give brighter choruses, the addition of the prepared for stops would give a more impressive instrument, able to cope with large congregations, which are not a very regular occurrence.

 

To keep the style one that Arthur Hill would recognise would be both the cheapest option and consistent with good practice, to change this organ from what it is into something it currently isn't will cost a considerable amount and will not please everyone, certainly not those who appreciate the elegance of the current sound. Shrewsbury is not well-endowed with elegant-sounding instruments. There are not over many late period Hill organs around either. One only has to sit at the console of Eton College Chapel or All Saints' Hove to know what a thrill this period of Hill's work can be.

 

In the same town, you have an interesting (but very poorly-sited and consequently rather inadequate) four-manual Binns at St.Mary's, a very bold, effective but unsubtle Norman and Beard, rebuilt by Nicholsons at St.Chad's (currently hoping for their second restoration in 30 years from H&H - this church has money!), and a variety of lesser organs, amongst which I would include the three-manual F&A (modified twice by R&D) at Shrewsbury School. If The Abbey organ is not the finest organ in Shrewsbury for reasons of inadequate control and elderly key action, it is certainly the least unpleasant to listen to. Another fine organ in a similarly parlous state is a large three-manual Nicholson (in original condition) at All Saints' Church Castlefields.

 

Good luck to you anyway..

I am much heartened that the church is getting proper support and help these days.

I remember attending a service in the days of Prebendary Lumley (c.1980) when one quite literally could not hear the spoken parts of Evensong for the noise of water coming through the roof.

 

I would agree with all of this. Some sound advice, here from Cynic.

 

I, too, wish you good luck in this venture. The Abbey possesses the nucleus of a fine instrument, which is basically sound - but which needs careful, thoughtful restoration. (I am occasionally a little suspicious of the number of times quotes for rebuilds/restorations include the cost of new soundboards, together with the recommendation that they are replaced.) It would be good to see it restored with a decent, reliable key action (I honestly believe that, in this case, spending money on the existing action would be little short of criminal*)

 

As Cynic has commented, the sound of what is actually there is good - even excellent. I would go as far as to state that there is not a nasty sound in the instrument - although the Choir Nazard is a littie pointless. (It is probably a little like finding a pork chop in the finger buffet at a Bar Mitzvah.)

 

In fact, the instrument possesses a warm, velvety sound (I am trying hard not to sound like Gilbert Benham, here), with good choruses which blend, yet are exciting to listen to - although I am glad that Hill did not diverge from his normal habit of dropping the seventeenth rank part-way up the compass in the G.O. mixture.

 

 

* For the following reasons:

1) Unless things have altered drastically since I was there, it is going to be difficult enough to raise money to complete the specification and to provide for mechanical renewal; it is highly unlikely that there will be spare money (on a regular basis), to cover the cost of routine attention to the action - which it will need, if it is to be retained.

 

2) Aside from providing as many of the prepared-for ranks as possible, the overwhelming need is for the organ to be thoroughly reliable.

 

3) If it is desired to guard against future flood damage, the organ will have to be raised from its present position. Therefore any concerns regarding electric action versus flood water will be negated.

 

4) Without wishing to cause offence to any board member, this organ has a job to do and spending money, simply to satisfy a desire to recreate a perceived historical reconstruction is not, as far as I am concerned, responsible stewardship - particularly in the present financial climate.

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Fear not, even if the money was available, there is neither musical nor liturgical reason to undertake an enlargement on anything like the scale of what happened recently at Cirencester, magnificent though that instrument surely now is. ...

On this matter - did Cirencester actually need their organ rebuilt as a large four-clavier instrument, with two 32ft. Pedal ranks? I did once conduct an RSCM course there and, whilst the Nave is fairly large (with the Chancel resembling nothing as much as a type of ecclesiastical dog-kennel), it is not that large.

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